Sunday, July 09, 2023

I'm Now Writing Elsewhere, Come Read Me There

To put this all in one post for the top of this page: I've moved.

If you want to read my essays and link round-ups—the sort of thing I used to put here, but now delivered to your inbox, and at a steady once-a-week rate—you should go and subscribe to Attempts 2.0 over on Substack:

And I am also publishing a series of short stories, which you should go read! Learn more about them here:

I will of course leave this up for its archives, but if you want to see anything new, go to those places. I hope to see you there!

Friday, March 10, 2023

Introducing Retcon: A Mosaic Story in Three Movements

This is cross-posted from Attempts's new home on substack. If you are reading this, you should go subscribe to the substack!  New updates will be mostly there, and new essays & other substantive material will be exclusively there.  We now return you to your regular post, already in progress:

I am debuting a new project—a big project—one I've been working on for a few years and which I have been gathering ideas for for longer than that. And I am hoping that you will  give the first installment a try.

What is this project? you ask. Why, say I, I am glad you asked that.1

Well, you remember that last week I put forward the term "mosaic stories" to refer to the general form of stories where small, to-some-degree self-contained stories make up a larger one? It so so happens, in an astonishing coincidence, that that's precisely the form of the story I've been working on.

The story's name is Retcon.

It will be a large story composed of twenty-seven smaller ones, divided into three sections, or "movements" as I've decided to call them.2 The smaller stories are (prose) short stories, averaging about 15,000 words each. 3 The stories are going to be released as ebooks (to begin with), although I have plans for print collections too. I am planning to release them on a monthly schedule, with a break between movements, so there will be one a month for nine months, and then a break, and then another movement will begin. 4

And the first one is available now. It's called "Zero Second"

So how can I read this story?

You can buy the ebook! It’s only $0.99.5

As for where to buy it, there are lots of options.

• If you want to buy it at Amazon (for Kindle), which is where the majority of ebooks are sold, you can do so at this link.

Or, if you’d prefer, you can buy it directly from me at my web site.

• Or you could buy it from another ebook vendor; it is available at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. (So far Apple is being difficult, but I hope to get it up there too before too long).

• Or, if you are willing to commit to the whole narrative (and/or are interested in supporting the series, and this substack in the bargin), you can pre-order the entire series in advance, and I will send them to you as they are released. Note that this offer is exclusive to my web site.6

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a number of people have offered to support my Substack, for which I was very grateful. Well, if you are interested in supporting this Substack, the best way to do it would be to support me, and the best way to do that would be to support my series. So please: go buy it, and read it!

And, just as important: if you like it, please tell people! Reviews (on Amazon or elsewehere) are really helpful. Even better: tell a friend that you think might like it, and get them to read it.7 Word of mouth is how this series will find its audience, if it does.

So… go! Now! Read! Enjoy!

But what's this story actually about?

A fair question!

I wrote a blurb for the series, which I will share in a moment. But while it fairly represents the whole series, it is something of a spoiler for parts of the first story. So before you read any further, you should go buy or listen to “Zero Second”!

All right, everyone back? Or at least not too spoiler-phobic?

Here’s what the story is about:

In 1951, a pair of scientists at Cornell discovered time-travel. With the specter of the atomic bomb in the immediate background, they decide not to replicate Einstein's mistake of drawing the attention of the political authorities to what might be a weapon. Instead, they decide to set up a clandestine research program to investigate the phenomenon, swearing all those who work on it to keep the secret.

Then, in 1991, a time traveler returns from 2031 with a disturbing message: no traveler and no message has ever come farther back from the moment in time when he left; beyond that instant—dubbed "zero second"—is unreachable. No one knows why. All people know is that something happens on April 4, 2031, to prevent any news of the future.

This is the story of what happens next... if "next" is the right word for a narrative which, in the way of things, is necessarily non-linear.

A Final Repeat of the Basic Point

I hope you will all go read the story; and then go and tell a friend, or three. This is the work of my heart, which I have been pouring myself into, “the heart’s reflections, writ in tears”, as the poet said.8 I hope you’ll give it a try.

1 It's easier when you're playing both parts.
2 I was going to call them three "series", as British TV does its sub-sections, but given that the entirety is also a series, I thought that would be confusing.
3 Actually, given their length, those more plugged into the terminology of the writing business they are "novelettes" or, in one or two cases, "novellas", but I don't think these are distinctions that need detain ordinary readers.
4 Yes, yes, just like a television show with its seasons (although closer together in time). Pity the poor fiction writer, always scuttling about in the shadow of those larger beasts, like tiny mammals dodging dinosaurs.
5 If that honestly, no kidding represents a financial difficulty to anyone, then drop me an email at stephenfrug - that little symbol for at - gmail.
6 Read: I don’t know how to set it up elsewhere or if it’s even possible.
7 And if you want to support this substack qua substack, do the same for it: tell people about it! Forward the link to essays they might like! Share!
8 Actually, Pushkin’s entire description of his own work resonates with me in contemplating mine:
Half humorous, half pessimistic,
Blending the plain and idealistic—
Amusement's yield, the careless fruit
Of sleepless nights, light inspirations,
Born of my green and withered years...
The intellect's cold observations,
The heart's reflections, writ in tears.
     — Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, trans. James Fallen

…although I should say “l’havdil”, the Talmudic term for saying that a comparison made on one front is not a comparison in other ways (so that to compare God to a king is not to say that kings are like gods, nor that God is like a king in living with bread, feeling want,
tasting grief, and needing friends): I am not comparing myself to Pushkin! Save that my work, howevermuch lesser than his, is also half humorous, half pessimistic, and also mixes “the intellect’s cold observations/the heart’s reflections, writ in tears”.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Re-Launching Attempts on Substack

I have decided to re-launch Attempts on Substack. You can read (and subscribe for free) here:

The inaugural post in which I say "I have decided to re-launch Attempts on Substack" at far greater length is here:

I hope that, if you happen to be here, you will hop over there and subscribe—which means that instead of you having to come to the blog, the blog will come to you(r inbox)!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Same Thanksgiving Post I Have Put Up Every Year Since 1621

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.... Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

-- Psalm 100: 2, 4

ANYA: I love a ritual sacrifice.
BUFFY: It's not really a one of those.
ANYA: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.

-- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Pangs" by Jane Espenson

If you are reading this, I am thankful that you have (to borrow from another tradition) been granted life, been sustained, and been enabled to reach this occasion. 

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer quote above comes from the Thanksgiving episode Pangs; you can watch the clip of it here:

And another, bonus quote from the same episode is here:

It's a fun episode; but for those of you reading this who aren't familiar with the show (hi Jon), not really the best place to start. Hit me up if you want more advice along these lines.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Aeneid, Book 1, Line 203

…forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.

 — Virgil (19 BCE)

 An hour will come, with pleasure to relate
Your sorrows past, as benefits of Fate.

Trans. John Dryden (1697) 

  It well may be
some happier hour will find this memory fair.

Trans. Theodore C. Williams (1910)

Perhaps one day you will remember even
these our adversities with pleasure.

— Trans. Allen Mandelbaum (1971)

Some day, perhaps, remembering even this
Will be a pleasure.

— Trans. Robert Fitzgerald (1983) 

A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this. 

— Trans. Robert Fagels (2006)

Maybe the day’ll come when even this will be joy to remember.

— Trans. Frederick Ahl (2007) 

…perhaps one day you’ll even delight in remembering this.

Trans. A. S. Kline (2016) 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Snark and Boojum Press

“‘You may seek it with thimbles—and seek it with care;
      You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
      You may charm it with smiles and soap—’”

I am pleased to say that Snark and Boojum Press now has a web page.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Nine Years Ago Today

This happened nine years ago today; adjusting for time zones, this post should go up at the moment (6pm Spanish time, 12pm Eastern US). It's one of the happiest things to ever be on the internet. Go ahead and watch it. Even if you've seen it before, it's worth enjoying again.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

On the Afterlife of Photographic Subjects: A Strange Sub-Sub Genre on the Border of History and Journalism

I just read the remarkable piece of journalism about the woman who was the subject of this famous photograph:

It was written by Patricia McKormick, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with, but who (judging by this piece) is superb; it was first published in the Washington Post (h/t LGM), but if that link hits a paywall for you, you can also find it in the Anchorage Daily News.

But it occurred to me that it is, in fact, an example of a small little niche genre: stories about the lives of not-particularly famous people who appeared in famous photographs. A few more examples occur to me.

First, there are stories about this other famous photograph from the Vietnam War, in which American napalm, dropped on children, has burned off the clothes of a little girl:

Well, the story (which I've had occasion to mention before) of the girl—how the photographer rushed her to the hospital, how she eventually ended up in Canada, how she and the photographer became friends—has been told, briefly, here: and at greater length in a book (which I haven't yet read) called The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong.

Another example, about a different iconic photograph* from a different iconic midcentury event, this one the 1957 integration of Little Rock, Arkansas's high school:

The story (which I have also had occasion to mention before) of the relationship between the two women (girls, at the time) in the photograph has been told by David Margolick, briefly, here: and in longer form in his book Elizabeth and Hazel.

But the more I think about it, the more examples come to mind.

There have been many stories told about this famous photograph from V-E day:

 About which there are, apparently, both questions concerning the identity of the people in the photograph and (conditional on who it actually is!) the fact that the kiss was non-consensual and more of a sexual assault than a celebration (see, e.g., here:, but this has gotten a lot of coverage.)  And yes, that too has been a book, The Kissing Sailor (another I haven't read), which appears to focus on the who-are-they mystery angle.

Then there's this photograph, less historic than the others here, perhaps, but very widely known in the art world, of the artist Marcel Duchamp playing chess (the activity he abandoned art to persue) while at the first retrospective of his work, with a young woman named Eve Babitz who would go on to be a novelist of some note:

This story (less shocking than any of the above, but still quite interesting) was told first by Eve Babitz herself, and then in greater detail by writer Lili Anolick in this engaging & worthwhile essay: Anolick has also written a biography of Babitz, Hollywood's Eve, which also tells the story, of course.

And those are just the ones that come readily to mind. I'm sure there are a lot more. Please leave any that occur to you in the footnotes.  It would be nice to curate a list!


* Actually, this one wasn't a single photographs; there were two or three images taken at almost the exact same moment, from different angles, two (at least) of which are widely reprinted; see Margolick for details.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Kim Stanley Robinson's THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE: A Review me, but not here; it's at The Ancillary Review of Books, and you can read it here:

Poem of the Day: When people say, “we have made it through worse before”

When people say, “we have made it through worse before”

all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones

of those who did not make it, those who did not

survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who


did not live to watch the parade roll down the street.

I have grown accustomed to a lifetime of aphorisms

meant to assuage my fears, pithy sayings meant to


convey that everything ends up fine in the end. There is no

solace in rearranging language to make a different word

tell the same lie. Sometimes the moral arc of the universe


does not bend in a direction that will comfort us.

Sometimes it bends in ways we don’t expect & there are

people who fall off in the process. Please, dear reader,


do not say I am hopeless, I believe there is a better future

to fight for, I simply accept the possibility that I may not

live to see it. I have grown weary of telling myself lies


that I might one day begin to believe. We are not all left

standing after the war has ended. Some of us have

become ghosts by the time the dust has settled.


Clint Smith

America! America outraged! America broken! America martyred! But America liberated!

 A sneak preview of Biden's inaugural address in just over an hour:

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Piranesi: a Spoiler-Free Review

I just finished reading Susana Clarke's second novel, Piranesi (2020) and it is just as wonderful as her first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004) while being so utterly unlike it that you would never guess that they were by the same author. Their only commonality is that both are distinctly British fantasy novels.  Basically, if you like good fantasy novels, pick it up & read it.


That's the long and the short of it, except that I should add that I think it's a particularly good book to go into blind.  After I finished reading it, I glanced at a few reviews, and I was very glad I hadn't done so first.  Of course, for many of you, "by the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" is sale enough. The rest of you should go read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.—Ok, I kid: I know that that latter book was not for everyone, although for a large number of people it was utterly superb. But I will say that if you generally like fantasy but were put off by Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, then probably the parts that put you off are absent from Piranesi.

Beyond that? Try to learn nothing.  The first page or two of Piranesi can be confusing, but the immediate mysteries are cleared up within another few pages. You'll be quite comfortable with them before the new mysteries, the ones you don't want spoiled, start piling up.


There's more to say about this book — a lot more — but for now, that's where I'll stop. It's great, go read it, avoid reviews.